POBITORA, Jan 29 - In a first in the state’s conservation history, 35 hand-reared turtle hatchlings, including the extinct-in-wild black soft-shell turtle were released in the Haduk Beel of Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary on Sunday.
The released hatchlings which also comprised the Indian soft-shell turtle and the peacock soft-shell turtle had been bred in the Haygriva Madhav Temple at Hajo in Kamrup district.
The hatchlings were first nurtured at the conservation facility of Haygriva Madhav following which they were translocated to Assam State Zoo. They were kept and monitored for a quarantine period of 39 days there.
The hatchlings were subsequently released in the presence of Pradipta Baruah DFO, Guwahati Wildlife; Tejas Mariswamy, DFO, Assam State Zoo; Mukul Tamuly; Ranger, Pobitora WLS; Arindam K Pachoni, Zoo Veterinary Officer, Pranab Malakar, caretaker of the temple facility Jayaditya Purkayastha, general secretary of Help Earth and Suraj K Chauhan, besides Sanath Bohra of Help Earth.
Baruah while terming the development as a milestone in turtle conservation, said that the collective effort involving different stakeholders like NGOs, local communities and the Forest Department has provided a new ray of hope for near extinct or extinct-in-wild species.
“This is commendable and needs to be replicated and sustained for boosting conservation,” he said, adding that conservation initiatives must take equal cognizance of so-called less-glamorous species that are as much threatened as some mega species are.
Purkayastha thanked the Haygriva Madhav temple authorities for their role as a key stakeholder in the artificial breeding programme, the Kamrup district administration, the Forest Department and Turtle Survival Alliance for logistic support.
Assam, incidentally, is the most species-rich state in India in terms of turtle diversity. It is home to 20 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises out of the 28 species present in India. Unfortunately 70 per cent of these species of turtles are threatened with extinction.
According to Purkayastha, in order to be really meaningful, the artificial incubation initiative has to ensure that a majority of the hatchlings are released in the wild.
“It is essential for having a healthy turtle population in their natural habitats outside the temple premises. Moreover, the temple ponds are already overpopulated with turtles. The whole idea behind the initiative is to increase the wild population of these rare species,” he said.
Last year at the Haygriva Madhav Temple 14 hatchlings of the black soft-shell turtle were reared for eight months and released back into the temple pond which shelters a number of turtle species.